Chase had seen it coming on the bike road home—an exhausted Charles Leeman was running out of steam, and crashed in his room as soon as they got back to the condo. Tired as well, from the earlier than usual morning, Chase took the opportunity to stretch out on the couch.
It had been a great reunion, and somewhere Christine had to be smiling, and maybe even sighing with relief. For the first time in years, and long overdue, he glimpsed the tattered remnants of their family coming back together. The pain of the past had eased. If only the toll taken hadn’t included his relationship with Hank… his mother wouldn’t have liked that either. Damn… he’d told Dawson in his text that he’d call him when he got back.
“How’s it going?”
“Hey, buddy. All good here. Enjoy the bike ride?”
“Absolutely… we ended up at our old house.”
“Take a trip down memory lane, did you?”
“That’s exactly what we did. It was emotional, but in a good way.”
“Yeah. A really good way. My dad, he’s sleeping now—I think the long flight home finally caught up with him—he’s a lot different from the way he was when he left.”
“Meaning what exactly?”
“It means I’m pretty sure Cindy and I have our old dad back—the one we grew up with.”
“It is, yeah. His pilgrimage did him good. We had a great talk, all three of us… a couple of them actually, and it feels like we’re finally done grieving, like the worst part is over.”
“You guys just needed time.”
He sighed, a contented one. “We all want to move forward and do Mom’s memory justice, and seeing the old place helped. So how was your night? Was the pizza guy your Prince Charming?”
Dawson chuckled. “No, not this time. I did go out, though.”
“Oh, you did? Where?”
“Do you know Carter, from work?”
“I don’t think so. Who is he?”
“He’s one of the IT guys. Tall dude… killer smile.”
“Yeah, that’s him… he’s going to grow it out. Anyway, he called me and asked if I wanted to go for coffee or drinks, so I said yes.”
“He had your number?”
“He did. I gave it to him a few days ago.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“Dude, a guy needs his secrets.”
“Apparently. Ah… so you went for coffee? Drinks?”
Chase frowned as his stomach dropped a little. “Well… hey, good for you, yeah, that’s great.” Had that sounded as awkward as it felt?
“It wasn’t a hookup or anything… just a couple of drinks at “Woody’s” followed by a coffee later. Some good conversation too.”
“Whatever.” Chase was finally able to smile. “He is hella cute.”
“He said the same about you.”
“Uh huh. I wasn’t sure about going on a date, but it turns out he’s a sweetheart, and we have a lot in common.”
“I guess that’s what you’d call it… casual, though.”
“Cool. So did sparks fly?”
“Um… I don’t know about that. There weren’t fireworks or anything, but I like him. He’s easygoing, and he’s interesting.”
“With a killer smile,” Chase added, trying his best to sound enthusiastic. “Sounds promising. So what do you have in common?”
“Well, he’s had his heart broken too, and he knows firsthand about unrequited love, so he understood my… caution. And, he likes golf.”
“You like golf? I Hmmm, more secrets, eh?”
Dawson laughed. “Yup. My dad used to take me and Brent to his club on the weekends when we were teenagers. I haven’t golfed since we went our separate ways, though.” His voice dipped on the last sentence, and Chase heard the wistfulness.
“Ah, I see. Bad memories?”
“Yes… no. Good ones for the most part, but it’s complicated.”
“I get it.”
“I know you do. So anyway, Carter and I are going golfing at some course north of here called “Pheasant Run” next Saturday. He says it’s a nice, easy par three, so I shouldn’t embarrass myself too badly.”
Chase swallowed before he spoke. “That definitely sounds promising.”
“I don’t know… we’ll see. You got plans for supper?”
“Oh, ah… my dad. I’ll have to see what he wants to do.”
“Okay, well, give me a call if you feel like getting together.”
“Will do. I think I might have a nap first.”
“That sounds like a great idea. I’m dragging my ass—been a long time since I had a late night. Talk to you later?”
“For sure. See ya.”
Chase ended the call and slumped back on the sofa. Had he just lost his friend to some new relationship? Closing his eyes, he took a few deep breaths. How had he sounded to Dawson? Why was he freaking out? Was he jealous?
To be honest, he was confused, because it almost felt like he was. At any rate, something was bothering him. He loved Hank still, no doubt about it, but Dawson had become important to him in so many ways. Was he just being selfish?
Twisting and turning to face the back of the couch, he squirmed until he got comfortable. He wished Rex was there to curl up with him—he could use the comfort his dog gave him. Sometimes he could smell Hank’s cologne on his thick coat, and a pathetic as it was, he could have used that scent now too.
It had been a great day so far, so why was he slipping backwards? Once again he thought about his and Hank’s ‘movie nights.’ Sighing, he buried his face in the cushions. He should be happy that his friend—his best friend—was ready to move forward, especially after fate had dealt him such a crappy hand. Why the fuck couldn’t he do the same?
“Chase? You awake?”
“Dad?” he rose up quickly. “What’s wrong?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing. You sounded upset.”
“I did? I don’t know what—”
“I thought you were talking to someone out here, but then I heard you yell out.”
Chase rubbed his eyes, blinking at the afternoon sun facing him. “Sorry about that—did I wake you?”
“No, I was already awake.”
“What did I yell out?”
“I couldn’t make out everything, but I did hear ‘Hank, please!’ I wasn’t sure if you were talking on the phone, but I thought I better check.”
“Oh. It must have been a dream… I don’t remember.” He sat up completely, putting his feet on the floor.
“I get that now. What’s going on, son?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how are you really? This morning when we were all together, you looked happy, and now….” His dad trailed off, and Chase frowned, reminded of his talk with Dawson.
“I’m still happy, don’t worry. I talked to Dawson a while ago, after you went to bed.”
Chase rubbed the last remnants of sleep from his eyes, stalling for time. “Oh… well… he’s started dating again.”
“O… kay… is that a bad thing?”
“No. No, not at all. He’s been stuck for a long time, so I’m happy for him… at least I think I am.”
“I see. You want to tell me about him?”
“If you want?”
“Don’t you want to get something to eat?”
“Is that your way of putting me off?” His father smiled from his perch on the coffee table.
Chase looked down, and then back up into his dad’s concerned visage. “He’s my best friend… the only one I’ve had since….”
“Since breaking up with Hank?”
Chase nodded. “I mean, Stacy and Don still care about me, and Trey too, but it’s been weird for everyone, so Dawson’s the only one I hang out with now. It’s easier that way. Anyway, I met him at work—he was one of the new interns at the time, and he asked me out, but I said no. He’d heard about Hank, and had a pretty sad story of his own, so long story short, we clicked… and became friends.”
“And nothing more?”
“No, Dad, I already told you that at Cindy’s. I mean, he’s attractive, well, really handsome actually, and I think he was sort of interested in me for a bit, and I even kissed him once, ah, twice, but….”
“Yeah… I was upset after a conversation with Hank, and I thought—”
“You were ready to make it something more?”
“Something like that, I guess, but it felt like I was cheating on Hank.”
“Of course it did, because you still love him.”
“With all my heart, Dad. It’s stupid. It’s been ages now, and he’s moved on, but I love him just as much as I ever did.”
“Chase, there would be something wrong if you didn’t. You two had something quite special. Christine and I believed you were the real deal, just like we were.”
“I know. Mom told me that a few times, and I thought so too. I just wish Hank felt the same.”
“Maybe he does.”
“You sound so sure.”
“Well, all I can tell you is people can be complicated, especially when they’ve been hurt the way he’s been, and I’m not just talking about what happened between you two.”
“Oh… his mom and dad? Right, I’m pretty sure that’s a big part of this.” Chase nodded slowly before continuing. “I’ve tried, Dad, but he’s not interested in anything I have to say. He can’t forgive me, or he doesn’t want to, just like he refuses to with his mom. That never made any sense to me either.”
“That may be, but you weren’t there during that time, and it makes sense to Hank, whether it’s the right thing or not.”
Chase nodded. He had never understood Hank’s holding onto his anger after all these years, but any time he’d suggested responding to her messages, he’d met with a stone wall.
“So you’re throwing in the towel?”
“What else can I do?”
“Are you asking for my advice?”
“Maybe.” He attempted a grin while he searched his father’s face, but couldn’t really pull it off.
“Keep trying. When something is worth it, you keep trying. He’s worth it, isn’t he?”
“I thought so, but… I don’t know anymore. He’s… it’s my fault, but he’s not the same Hank.”
“Well, if you think about it, you weren’t the same for a while either, Chase,” his father said gently. “Hank didn’t give up on you, did he?”
His father’s words caught him by surprise and hit him hard. He swallowed, trying to wet his suddenly dry throat. “No, he never did, but now he sees me differently.” He looked away from those concerned eyes, feeling like a little kid again.
“Am I upsetting you, son?”
“No, Dad, no,” he insisted, meeting his gaze again. “It’s just… it’s been frustrating, and I’m tired of… of going in circles.”
“I get it. We’ll leave it alone then, okay?”
“Sure… but, Dad, why am I feeling weird about Dawson having someone?”
“Pit of your stomach, bad?”
“A little bit, yeah.”
“Well, I can only speculate, but my guess would be you’re worried you’ll lose his friendship to a relationship—it does happen—or it could be you’ve been seeing him as a back-up plan.”
Chase met his father’s direct gaze as he thought about the last part. “That would be pretty damn selfish, wouldn’t it?”
His father scoffed. “I don’t see it that way at all. He was there for you when you lost your circle of friends, and now you have this very important connection. Emotions are complicated too, and you just have to be careful you don’t use him as a rebound.”
“I would never want to do that. He’s been through a lot in the past year.” He sighed, feeling miserable.
“Of course you wouldn’t, and you haven’t. Look, don’t get down on yourself, but it’s easy to make mistakes when you’re vulnerable… that’s all I’m saying. As long as you remember that, you’ll get past this, trust me.”
“Absolutely… unless your feelings run deeper than you’re willing to admit?”
Chase frowned again. Did they? He thought about that kiss. As nice as it was, it’d felt wrong. How would it feel now? Sighing, he stood up. “I have to pee.”
When he returned, his father was in the kitchen, looking in the fridge. “We need to do some shopping.”
Chase, standing in the doorway, agreed. “I’ve been eating out, or going over to Dawson’s for barbecue—he lives right across the road.”
His father closed the door and turned to face him. “Interesting… and convenient. Why don’t we go out for supper, my treat? You can invite Dawson if you’d like.”
“What about Cindy?”
“Of course, her too.”
Cindy couldn’t make it—she had plans with Marshall—but Dawson gave an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ and they ended up walking to a nearby “Boston Pizza.” Chase noticed a difference in his friend right away as he watched him interact with his father. He was animated and talkative, not so unusual, but still, his confidence seemed to have grown in the relaxed way he moved. It might have been his imagination, but Dawson looked happier than he’d ever seen him. That was a good thing, right?
“So, Chase tells me you had a date last night,” Charles said as soon as they were seated in the noisy dining room.
Chase groaned, and then rolled his eyes at his friend. “Dad!”
“What? I’m just making conversation.”
Dawson frowned at Chase, causing him to shrug. “You’re being nosy, Dad.”
“It’s fine,” Dawson said, turning his attention back to Charles. “I don’t mind at all… and before you ask, it went well for a first date.”
“So there’ll be a next one then?”
“Yes, sir. We’ll see how it goes. We’re going to play golf. I just hope I don’t embarrass myself, because it’s been a while.”
Was that a blush Chase was seeing creeping up Dawson’s neck? The man needed a boost. “I’m sure he’s not going to care whether you’re a decent golfer or not. He’s a good guy from what I can tell. And it’s about time one of us got back in the saddle, right?”
Dawson turned his gaze to Chase, his expression thankful. “I’m going to give it a chance, but it scares me a little… be prepared to talk me off some bridges.”
Dawson slowly grinned. “Thanks. We can do each other’s hair while we talk about boys.”
That got his father laughing—more like roaring, actually—and Chase and Dawson soon joined him. They settled in to enjoying their food and good conversation after that. Halfway through the meal, Chase realized he didn’t have that sick feeling in his stomach anymore. It was good to see his friend so happy.
The following week went by in a blur for Chase. He’d picked up Rex on Monday after work, from a rather subdued Hank. The man’s eyes had lit up at the news Charles Leeman was back, but dimmed again after asking Chase to pass on his ‘Hello.’ There’d been no follow up questions about the man who’d been his only father figure for years, after his own had drank himself to death.
It made Chase wonder what was going on with him, but when he asked if he was okay, Hank had given a low-key, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Bring Rex back whenever you want.” On that note, he’d turned and disappeared back into his building.
Chase had muttered ‘Jerk’ as he put an excited Rex into his car, but immediately chastised himself. Hank had been pleasant enough, and that was all he should expect. At least he didn’t rub Kevin in his face. The times when they’d confided everything to each other were gone, as was his ex being part of Chase’s family. If it weren’t for shared custody of Rex….
“So, did you have a good time?”
Dawson had just opened his door on Sunday morning, and he was squinting at the morning sun.
Yawning, he waved Chase in. “What time is it?”
“Oh, it’s going to be a hot one. I need a shower.”
“Never mind that now. Why are you all rumpled?”
“Fell asleep on the couch.” Dawson rubbed his face, still looking groggy.
“With Carter?” he asked while peering into the living room.
When he turned back, Dawson was shaking his head. “Nah, he left at around three, I think.”
“Oh, I see,” he said with raised eyebrows. “Did you guys—”
“No! I told you we were taking it slow.”
Chase grinned. “Well, there are a couple of ways of taking it slow.”
Dawson snorted. “Don’t I know it, and I was tempted, but… the conversation was just as good.”
“Just as good?”
“Okay, almost as good. He’s a really sweet guy… and a great kisser.” His wink was amusing.
“Do tell… how great?”
“No more questions… I need to wake up. You make coffee and I’ll grab a shower.”
“What about food? Are we still going for a bike ride?”
“That’s two questions… and that’s all you get for now. Power bar and coffee, and I’ll be ready to go… can you fill my water bottle?” he asked before disappearing from view.
“Hey, want me to do your hair when you’re done?”
Dawson reappeared in the kitchen doorway with a broad smile. “Fuck off. I’ll talk when I’m ready.”
“Fine… so are you going to tell me how dreamy he is?”
“I repeat—fuck off.”
Chase chuckled as he proceeded to make coffee. Once again, he was proud of himself for being genuinely pleased for his friend. Maybe in a month or two, he’d be ready to think about being happy with somebody other than Hank.
Thanks to Timothy M., Robin to my Batman, and to all the readers who share their thoughts on this story. I truly appreciate the engagement... and the varied opinions. You guys are awesome! Cheers... Gary....